Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas affiliate of the American Civil LIberties Union, has issued a statement taking issue with those who view the 60th anniversary of Central High’s limited desegregation thanks to federal court and troops as a “celebration.”
“This anniversary should not be a celebration of a goal achieved, but rather an urgent call to action to address the systemic racism and injustice that continues to pervade our society. Sixty years since the state of Arkansas tried to thwart the U.S. Supreme Court mandate in Brown v. Board of Education and block the integration of Central High School, we have yet to achieve racial integration or equality, either in public schools or in society at large. We urge Arkansans to recognize the racism that continues to poison our justice system, our schools and our daily life – so that we may combat these harmful forces with clear-eyed determination and renewed resolve.”
Amen. I heard a similar message last night from UA-Little Rock’s civil rights historian John Kirk, who spoke about the long arc of the civil rights struggle that began before Central and continues today. He noted a certain “tone deafness” in styling the observance as “reflections on progress.” All around us we need not look far for regression, as I noted some weeks ago.
Kirk wrote for the Times this week about the many meanings of the school crisis (none of this, by the way, diminishes the heroism of the Little Rock Nine, who’ll be honored again this week.)
My wish is that Monday, at the climaxing observance, some person of stature — a member of the Nine, the former president, somebody — will turn to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and say:
At a minimum, I hope someone like a Bill Clinton can see some irony in the fact that the white business establishment led the charge to wrest control from a black majority school board and now celebrates “progress” including the continuing assault on the district by Northwest Arkansas billionaires.